Every football player dreams about hearing his name called during the NFL Draft, and I was no different. Growing up in Oakland, CA during the 80’s and 90’s with the Raiders in Los Angeles, I was a huge San Francisco 49ers fan. I used to imagine sitting at a table with my mom and family, hearing the 49ers call my name, walking across the stage, and shaking Commissioner Tagliabue’s hand while holding up a Niner jersey with a big number one on it. But that didn’t happen.
Instead, I sat on my uncle’s couch in disbelief, uncertain if my dream had come to an end. I had watched the draft in its entirety. A few teams even called and said they might take me with their next pick, but that didn’t happen either. Trying to rationalize what happened, my mind flooded with questions and thoughts. Why didn’t I get drafted? I’m better than half the defensive tackles taken. Aren’t I good enough? Then my phone rang. I snapped out of my trance, scrambling to answer the call. It was my agent!
My agent mentioned that there were three teams interested in signing me as a free agent: Buffalo, San Diego and Carolina. He explained that this was a better scenario than getting drafted in the 6th or 7th round. Now I could choose a scheme and situation that provided the best opportunity for me to make the roster. Maybe he was just trying to make me feel better, but it made sense, and 15 minutes later I made a decision. Making a decision so quickly was stressful and hard to do. I had no knowledge about what my coaches or teammates would be like.
It seemed ridiculous that four years earlier I was able to visit universities before committing, but this was the nature of the business in the NFL. If I waited too long, I risked the chance that teams would fill their rosters spots, and if I chose the wrong team, I could find myself out of a job. After weighing the pros and cons, I chose the Carolina Panthers. Their aggressive style of defensive would allow me to get up the field and make plays. Plus, they only drafted one defensive tackle.
Looking back, I’m happy my introduction to the NFL started with a piece of humble pie. Sure I wanted to be drafted in the first round, but it wasn’t what I needed in order to obtain success and longevity. At age 22 you couldn’t tell me anything, and depending who you ask today, you still can’t. I was the big man on campus, a star player for the #5 team in the country, who was soon to be drafted. I had the work ethic and ability, but I was naive about the NFL culture. I didn’t realize the NFL was a business: cut throat and a revolving door. If I had remained in my comfort zone of playing only defensive tackle, and not open to the opportunities of playing other positions and special teams, I would’ve been out of the league in 2 or 3 years. But that initial shock of being undrafted changed my mindset, checked my ego and provided a chip on my shoulder that would prove well for me, and still is, as I enter my 12th NFL season.